Date of Award

5-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Marilyn Kallet

Committee Members

Art Smith, Ben Lee, Lynn Sacco

Abstract

Every age has its troubles, and ours is no different. Military conflict, economic uncertainty, environmental threats, and other serious global concerns shape how many of us greet every new day. These issues, however, are unacknowledged in a growing segment of contemporary American poetry. Too often, some poets neglect what is outside them and instead turn to producing work that is so focused on the poet’s interior life that no one besides the poet him- or herself can possibly enter. But contemporary American poets can find an important influence in postwar Eastern European poets who have risen from one of the ugliest times in recent history and managed to write poems that acknowledge, respond to, and rise above the horrors of World War II, poems that help us search within ourselves and find a way to respond to the world. Through close study of several Eastern European poets, such as Czeslaw Milosz, Zbigniew Herbert, Wislawa Szymborska, and Adam Zagajewski, contemporary American poets can focus again on poetry’s chief aim: to establish genuine connection between poet and reader.

This issue is central to the poems in my dissertation, The Genius of a Crow, which rely on three steps in order to ensure they transcend the too-inwardly-focused verse common today: one, the poems engage with a series of found photographs from the 1940s through 1960s, which provide entry into the speaker’s memories; two, they are written through the perspective of a persona; and three, they incorporate outside research, which deepened my understanding of the postwar period in America.

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